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Exp Diabetes Res. 2010;2010. pii: 714108. doi: 10.1155/2010/714108. Epub 2010 Aug 8.

Iron overload in diabetic retinopathy: a cause or a consequence of impaired mechanisms?

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CIBER de Diabetes y Enfermedades Metabólicas Asociadas, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Unidad de Diabetes y Metabolismo, Instituto de Investigación Hospital Universitario Vall d'Hebron, Paseo Vall d'Hebron 119-129, 08035 Barcelona, Spain.


Iron is an essential ion for life, playing a central role in many metabolic processes. The most important property of free iron is its capacity to be reversibly oxidized and reduced, but at same time this make it highly pro-oxidant molecule. In this regard, iron is able to generate powerful reactive oxygen species (ROS). For this reason, careful control on iron availability is central to the maintenance of normal cell function in the retina. In the diabetic eye there is an impairment of iron homeostasis, thus leading to iron overload. The mechanisms involved in this process include: (1) Destruction of heme molecules induced by hyperglycemia (2) Intraretinal and vitreal hemorrhages (3) Overexpression of the renin-angiotensin system. The main consequences of iron overload are the following: (1) Retinal neurodegeneration due to the increase of oxidative stress (2) Increase of AGE-RAGE binding (3) Defective phagocytosis of retinal pigment epithelium, which generates the accumulation of autoantigens and the synthesis of proinflammatory cytokines. Further studies addressed to explore not only the role of iron in the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy, but also to design novel therapeutic strategies based on the regulation of iron homeostasis are needed.

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